The Tech Dilemma for LGBTQ+ Youth and Mental Health
I can’t stop thinking about how much has changed in a single generation. My kids are growing up with two moms who are legally married. They can hold a smooth rectangle in their hand and connect with virtually anybody, anywhere, any time. They have just witnessed the election of the queerest congress in history , including two openly-gay Black men. Every day my kids are exposed to images and messages that celebrate diversity and those that foster deep hatred and polarization. Technology is contributing to and facilitating this quagmire. I can’t stop thinking about it.
In many ways, it’s a great time to be young and queer in America. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is less tolerated, both legally and socially. Happy, proud, thriving, visible LGBTQ+ people can be seen in virtually every profession, every lifestyle, in every stitch of the social fabric.
And yet, queer teens still face disproportionately high rates of bullying and violence, abuse and rejection, discrimination and isolation at school, at home, and in their communities. They are more likely to battle depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation—a likelihood that increases along multiple axes for trans, gender non-binary, and queer people of color. It’s a complicated picture, made more complicated in the COVID era.
As we begin 2021, many American teens haven’t regularly attended school or in-person activities in almost a year. With COVID has come a breadth and intensity of isolation that creates a variety of new problems for young people, and exacerbates existing problems beyond what I think we have the capacity to imagine right now.
We don’t know what comes of this, but we do know a few things. We know that LGBTQ+ youth are at heightened risk of experiencing intimate partner violence and substance abuse . We know that racism and intersecting stigmas compound dangers for queer youth, and that they shoulder a disproportionate burden of mental health challenges , especially if they are youth of color . We know that protective factors for these young people include access to affirming services and belonging to a community.